- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Balance is a prime virtue of Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sedans. Discriminating driving enthusiasts will applaud its performance and handling while buyers who seek luxury combined with the latest technology will find its ride comforting.

Mercedes-Benz describes its new model as a sport sedan and it deserves the term. It handles like a dream and has enough acceleration to make driving a pleasure.

The new C-Class Sedan has to be good or it would be overwhelmed by the competition. Jaguar's new X-Type Sedan, the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series are formidable foes, but the C-Class is ready to do battle.

From an appearance standpoint there is no doubt of its Mercedes-Benz heritage. Its styling takes much from the flagship S-Class with a sleek eye-catching body shape.

The C-Class features a unique interpretation of the familiar elliptical headlight design, resembling overlapping ovals with figure-eight outline.

Aerodynamically it is a winner. It offers a 16-percent improvement over its predecessor with a 0.27 drag coefficient. This excellent drag coefficient was accomplished by paying attention to small details. The A-pillars are shaped to minimize wind noise at speed, as are the door seals and side-view mirrors. The windshield wipers have been designed to eliminate wind noise as well as air turbulence. A notched sunroof deflector effectively eliminates interior booming.

Two V-6 engines provide the power for the new model. The test car, C320, had the larger 3.2-liter, 215-horsepower power plant that develops 221 pounds-feet of torque from 3,000-4,600 rpm.

The C240 model is powered by a 2.6-liter engine generates 168 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque.

I drove both versions several months back at the car's formal introduction. My favorite is the larger engine especially if it is expected to gather most of its mileage in mountainous country. It is also the engine that will appeal to the enthusiast. The C320 provides excellent mid-range performance and is capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in a quick 6.9 seconds.

The C240 accelerates to 60 mph in a respectable 8.2 seconds several years ago this would have been considered breathtaking.

The bigger engine features sequential fuel injection and electronic drive-by-wire throttle control to ensure progressive response to the gas pedal.

A five-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift providing manual gear selection, but without the need for a clutch, is standard on the C320. For those who prefer a manual transmission, it is available as standard equipment on the C240 but not the C320.

The automatic not only adapts to changes in road grade, delaying upshifts during climbs and hastening downshifts to provide engine braking on descents, it also adapts to an individual's driving style.

There is also a "Winter" mode that can be operated by a switch located next to the shift lever. Winter mode engages second from a standstill and allows the transmission to upshift at lower engine speeds, enhancing traction in icy conditions.

I drove the C320 over my favorite curvy roads not once but twice. It was so enjoyable that once was not enough.

Despite driving at a good clip, the C320 never whimpered on tight curves or gave any indication that it was being pushed too hard.

The new rack-and-pinion steering system provides excellent feel and response as well as precision.

Part of the reason for its good highway manners is the C-Class's Electronic Stability Program pioneered by Mercedes-Benz in 1996. The system helps maintain directional stability in turns as well as when driving straight ahead, including over uneven surfaces and patchy snow, ice or gravel.

Four-wheel disc brakes with a standard electronic four-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard. The interior is well designed and roomy for the driver and front-seat passenger. Like the competition, the rear bench seat's comfort depends on the placement of the individual front seats.

Drivers will find the C-Class steering wheel provides an easy and convenient way to control many of the car's systems. Two rocker switches control the dash display and adjustment of more than 50 different functions.

A large analog speedometer dominates the instrument panel with a tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges alongside. In the center of the speedometer is a digital readout providing the driver with an odometer, outside temperature and the time.

If you are in the market for an entry-level sports sedan and you don't take a long look at the new C-Class models, you are doing yourself a disservice.

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